Indy residents part of world festival

For nearly five decades, tens of thousands of young people from nearly every country in the world have gathered together under a banner of peace, friendship and international solidarity at the World Festival of Youth and Students. Melissa O'Rourke (back, right) and Jason Jones plan to be a part of a local delegation traveling to this year's festival in Caracas, Venezuela.

In August, Indianapolis residents Melissa O'Rourke and Jason Jones plan to be part of a local delegation traveling to this year's festival in Caracas, Venezuela.

"It's such an incredible opportunity," O'Rourke says. "We are really looking forward to talking to people from all over the world about the issues facing our generation."

Organizers and participants consider the gathering of the world's youth a unique opportunity to share experiences of the struggles against war, racism, sexism, privatization, corporate globalization, attacks on workers' right to organize and the destruction of the environment.

This year's event will include broad discussions on social justice, but will also focus on the history and particular struggles of the host country Venezuela.

"What's going on in Venezuela right now, particularly with President Chavez and his support of workers' rights, is one of the most important and least understood attempts at human rights in the world," Jones believes.

The Venezuelan people have stood up to U.S. economic and political attacks and intervention in recent years to fight for their social and economic rights. Jones and O'Rourke see their participation in the World Youth Festival as an expression of solidarity with the Venezuelan people in their struggle for self-determination.

The festival itself grew out of the ashes of the Second World War, when thousands of youth and students assembled in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1948 to proclaim that the young people of the world would never again allow the horrors of fascism to terrorize the world.

Since then, the festival has blossomed into an on-going forum for progressive youth from all over the world. The 14th World Youth Festival, held eight years ago in Havana, Cuba, drew more than 800 delegates from the U.S., the largest American delegation to date, as many of the young participants wanted to see the revolutionary process in Cuba for themselves and show their solidarity with the Cuban people.

This year's festival program includes art exhibitions, theater performances, concerts and an International Hip-Hop Summit. There will also be a panel exchange between the U.S. delegation and the delegation of Iraqi students planning to attend. The Iraqi students will also lead a program discussing the effect of the American war and occupation on their country and their individual livelihoods.

The slogan for this year's festival, "For peace and solidarity - we stand against imperialism and war," makes the setting in Venezuela appropriate. In April of 2002, a coup against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez failed to unseat the "people's president," despite what many believe to be the backing of the coup attempt by the United States government. On two separate occasions since the failed coup, the Venezuelan people have voted overwhelmingly to keep Chavez in office.

"It's just so amazing that Americans have no idea how often our government tries to intervene in another country's democracy. Venezuela is a great example of how one country can fight back against the imperialism of the U.S.", O'Rourke says.

In an effort to raise money for travel expenses and the conference costs, O'Rourke and Jones are hosting a series of discussions centering on Venezuelan workers' rights, including screenings of the controversial documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

In 2001, documentary filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha O'Briain traveled to Venezuela to videotape a behind-the-scenes profile of President Chavez, the democratically elected leftist president who had been swept into office by a groundswell of support from the poor sections of Venezuela's cities and countryside. While filming in April of 2002, the pair found themselves in the midst of a coup attempt against Chavez. Because of a media blackout in both Venezuela and the United States, the documentary remains as the only independent account of the coup.

O'Rourke and Jones believe Venezuela is a model of self-determination and social change. According to Jones, "We just want to take part in something as historic as this festival and hopefully come back to the United States and educate other people about how ordinary citizens can take back their government."

For more information about the World Festival of Youth and Students in Caracas, or to make donations in support of the Indiana delegation traveling to the festival, contact Melissa O'Rourke at peacefulmel@yahoo.org.

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